The rapid spread of COVID-19 is changing personal lives and day-to-day business operations across the globe. In the U.S., starting with the State of Washington on February 29, 2020, governors across the nation have been declaring their home states under a state of emergency. On March 13, 2020, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency for the United States on account of the pandemic. The remaining states are following suit as the need for an emergency protocol hits closer to home. And Maine is no exception, with Governor Janet Mills declaring a state of emergency on March 15, 2020.
While there have been previous recommendations to businesses regarding their operations, Governor Janet Mills issued an Executive Order today, solidifying rules for businesses in Maine during this state of emergency. Effective for 14 days, beginning March 25, 2020 at 12:01 a.m. through April 8, 2020 at 12:01 a.m., this order mandates all non-essential, public-facing businesses close their physical workplaces to workers, customers, and to the public.
“Today, I am taking further action to mitigate the spread of the virus, to protect the health of our loved ones and fellow citizens, and to safeguard the capacity of our health care system,” said Governor Mills. Governor Mills also acknowledged the strain this will cause businesses in Maine, but went on to explain the necessity of these actions as we face an “unprecedented challenge that is threatening the health and safety of our people.”
Non-essential businesses include things like gyms, shopping malls, casinos, theaters, hair salons, spas, parlors, and other personal services. And “public-facing” pertains to businesses that have vendor, customer, or personal interactions. However, non-essential business operations are not mandated to shut down completely. Working remotely and providing products and services in a way that excludes person-to-person contact are encouraged – things like online, email, and phone orders and delivery preparations. The order states there are to be no business activities involving 10 or more people unable to properly execute social distancing of 6 feet or more between workers. As long as this order is followed, you may still have employees doing things like maintaining inventory, facilities, and equipment and maintaining usual security, payroll, and employee benefits functions.
Essential businesses are to remain open at this time, as their services are considered imperative to the health and safety of Mainers. Essential businesses, of course, include things like utility providers, grocers, gas stations, post offices and shipping companies, trash collectors, and medical providers. But, equally as important are those in food processing, fishing, and agricultural work, as well as construction, industrial manufacturing, banking and credit union services, automotive repair, trucking and distribution, and providers of household goods.
Essential businesses are still mandated to operate under strict social distancing guidelines, including working remotely when possible and maintaining 6 feet or more between workers and members of the public. The order states that all essential business should have these 6 foot intervals clearly marked, for employees and the public, by way of signs or tape. Hand sanitizer should also be readily available to workers and customers. Essential businesses should also clearly post operating hours and ways to reach them other than in person. And, if applicable, keep separate operating hours designated for the elderly and vulnerable.
The Governor’s March 24, 2020 Executive Order also renews and extends her March 18, 2020 Executive Order, which restricted social gatherings with more than 10 attendees, as well as bar and restaurant services, through April 8, 2020.
In addition, Governor Mills previously put in an application to the Small Business Administration (SBA), requesting aid for small businesses affected by COVID-19 in Maine. The SBA has approved the Governor’s application for SBA Injury Disaster Loans. Businesses can now access and apply for Economic Impact Disaster Loans at www.sba.gov/disaster, and they may also call the toll-free line has been established to answer questions at 1-800-659-2955.
For financial and tax questions on how your business has been, or may be, affected, contact us today.
by David Jean, CPA